Ons Plek shelter for girls in Mowbray celebrates the importance of Youth Day every day by helping young homeless women prepare themselves for a “normal” life after after they have lost their way while living on the streets.
Ons Plek – Our Place in English – is classified as an intake and stabilisation shelter and was opened in 1988 to assist young women living on the streets.
There are shelters in Mowbray and Woodstock which can accommodate 34 girls and four babies in total.
Ons Plek director Pam Jackson said: “Our practise has always been that we take every day as a Youth Day. We constantly strive to prepare our children for real life. To this end we invite the children in every aspect of household matters such as shopping, preparing all meals and doing all household chores.”
Ms Jackson said in a normal child’s life, they were naturally prepared for real life duties as they were brought up. Parents take their child shopping with them and show them how to shop and compare prices simultaneously. Ons Plek therefore tries to bring the children up in the same way they would have been brought up in their family’s house.
“Duties that they would have done in a family’s house also involve the children doing the cooking. The children at Ons Plek do all the cooking, each child has their day to cook on the roster. The childcare worker will also help teach the children according to their age,” she said.
Ms Jackson said an important skill the girls may have lost while on the street is their attention span. “We therefore emphasise teaching the girls how to focus on one thing at a time. This takes place through the bridging school.
“The girls would usually drop out of school in the first place because they cannot cope with the work and they meet the wrong friends, leading them to groups on the street and the wrong company,” she said.
Ons Plek educator who also teaches the bridging classes, Jessie Kanyama, said the girls were assessed before being sent to school. “We need to ensure that the girls who come in here are stable for school,” she said. “My duty is to assess them intellectually and psychologically. Every girl that enters Ons Plek will automatically become a part of the bridging school.”
Ms Kanyama said each child would be assessed according to their age and educational background. If they are able to pass the assessment they can start applying for school.
“The bridging school definitely helps the girls to ease into school work again because some of them have been out of school for a long time. It helps put them into the mood to learn again,” she said.
Ms Kanyama said by the time they came to Ons Plek, many of the girls’ self esteem was very low and they were therefore encouraged to be themselves and not wait for someone else to tell them what to do or be.
Ons Plek social worker Lee-Anne Dolly said: “We encourage the girls daily in all that they do.
“We allow girls to bring their skills that they have and encourage them to use it in the facility. Not only does this prepare them with skills for the home but girls who are not able to be rehabilitated with family are equipped with skills to help them cope independently in the community when leaving Ons Plek.”
However, said Ms Dolly, some girls could never be placed back into schools in the community due to their age or learning needs. Some are too old for the grades they need to complete, so bridging school could be the only form of learning they will receive.
“They learn basic maths, language and life skills to help equip them for the community,” she said.